We all rely on Amazon reviews when we make our purchases. Whether we’re looking for a lightning cable or a new set of headphones, the last thing we want is a shoddy product. So it’s no surprise that some companies take advantage of our dependence on good reviews. Good reviews drive more people toward the product, and more purchases raise the product and seller’s profile on Amazon. Let’s face it–we’re more likely to purchase a product with a thousand positive reviews than one with just two, even if those two were positive.
Amazon recognizes the that the ratings and review system is often abused by sellers. In fact, to crack down on the practice, Amazon has sued over 1,000 sellers who have paid for feedback. Finally, they created the Amazon Vine program and prohibited incentivized product reviews as of October 2016.
Amazon Vine is an invite-only program where top reviewers are invited by Amazon to participate in providing reviews for new products. Once enrolled, Amazon Vine participants can request products for review, and Vine Voice reviews, along with top reviewers, often have badges near their name. Here’s a list of the badges you may see on Amazon:
One drawback of this is that Vine participants receive their products for free, so their reviews may be a bit biased. One way Amazon manages bias is through the Vine reviewer’s helpfulness. Additionally, vendors have no contact with those reviewers. The point of the program is to help vendors in Vendor Central launch new products and gain ranking, so Amazon Vine is a powerful tool for those first-party vendors.
Currently, the only way to participate in Amazon Vine is to be a first-party vendor in Vendor Central.
Before Amazon’s prohibition of incentivized reviews, Amazon review clubs existed to capitalize on the need for feedback to push a product’s ranking and reach. Amazon’s ban means that many of these websites, like AMZ Review Trader, have disappeared only to reappear under a different name offering a similar service. These review restrictions have made it more difficult for sellers to “game” the review system. However, sellers have new ways of manipulating their product reviews.
Numerous review clubs used to offer sellers access to thousands of customers who were willing to leave positive feedback for free or heavily discounted products. Most of these review clubs no longer exist due to Amazon’s restrictions because owners coerced members into submitting positive reviews. Some members of those review clubs even reported harassment by club owners through email and social media for leaving negative reviews. Obviously, these fake reviews hurt customers because they were not necessarily truthful about the product. Now, those few review clubs have rebranded themselves as providing other services for Amazon sellers. They can use their subscriber lists to market their services.
Here is Amazon’s policy on reviews:
Many 3rd party marketplace sellers now use websites like JumpSend to launch their new products. These sites market themselves in various ways, like email automation or coupon distribution software, but they do the same thing: offer steep discounts on new products for members. Buyers must sign up with the website to get these deals, and sellers must register to use the service.
These seller websites offer steep discounts to people, sometimes upwards 99% off, with the implied understanding that buyers who receive such discounts leave reviews. By launching products through these services, sellers can get reviews faster. The reviewers are actual Amazon customers tagged with Verified Purchase, giving the feedback credibility. Additionally, because customers register with the website, they are then emailed, sometimes persistently, regarding feedback for their purchases. Technically, Amazon prohibits reviews that are from friends and family, and they don’t allow reviews from people who received a massive discount on the product. Discounted product feedback is positive since people are more forgivable of defects. For instance, you’re more likely to ignore a cosmetic damage if you purchased it for $2 rather than $10.
Here’s a heavily discounted HDMI cable from one such review site:
Not surprisingly, this cable has a 5-star rating on Amazon, with 22 5-star reviews and 1 3-star review.
Sellers who are considering these promotional sites should be aware of the potential for breaking Amazon’s feedback policy. For instance, Amazon prohibits sellers from contacting buyers with inappropriate emails or directly through emails. Even though emails come from the deals service, customers can still complain to Amazon. Some of Amazon’s policy regarding this practice is below.
While fake reviews are declining, there are still businesses that benefit from skirting Amazon’s review policies. New sellers looking to gain feedback quickly often use such sites to expand their brand. Whether or not these websites are breaking any Amazon policy is up for debate. Such services no longer, at least explicitly, influence or manipulate reviews. Also, buyers can purchase the heavily discounted item and refuse to leave a review. Amazon does suspend review privileges for customers who abuse the feedback system. If your account is suspended, read our helpful article with tips on how you should handle your response.
Still, if all buyers avoided leaving feedback, deals sites would not exist since they wouldn’t have much to offer. So there’s at least some understanding between the customer and the discount service. Let’s not forget that those deals websites also have customer emails. This means that both the site and the sellers can influence reviews outside of Amazon through other social media platforms.
To avoid these issues, you can start building your own customer list through social media. Social media will give you a platform to launch products and promotions instead of relying on a third-party service.